Archive for personal belief system
In “Cutting Ropes and Sailing Free” I described the roots of my recent depression and the process I was going through to break free. I wouldn’t have had the strength to cut ropes unless I let myself feel what it was I truly desired.
I was born with sails. The ropes that I attached to other ships happened out of necessity, out of a need to stay safe, to stay afloat, to not be abandoned. The belief systems I inherited from my parents, from the church I grew up in, from other survivors notched so many conflicting beliefs into those ropes stretched out to one ship and another. I believed I shouldn’t shine too bright. I believed I had to be happy or successful so other people wouldn’t be disappointed in me. I believed my ship was inferior to others. I believed I needed others to make decisions for me because I couldn’t make my own (good enough). I believed it was selfish to set sail and go after what it was I really wanted…
As I got older, another coping method formed. I chose certain ships to follow. I knew that I wanted to sail and leave the harbor. But I didn’t know how to do it on my own. So I set my sights on one ship than another, trying to live my life just the same as them. I even did this with characters in books I read, people on TV, in movies, as well as the real people in my life. The open seas were too terrifying to sail all on my own. I believed if I could step in the exact steps of others, I could get a piece of the same fulfillment that they had. If I couldn’t feast for myself, I would settle for crumbs from their feast… But, this isn’t how it works for us. The fulfillment I enjoyed was superficial and the crumbs only bore frustration.
I have that unique lantern burning deep within me that holds all the stuff I need to sail my own ship. My desire dwells here. My Mom recently contributed her very honest story of how she wanted to “get into my skin” when I was younger and live my life for me better than she thought I was living it myself. Her belief system about happiness was skewed. In a way, she truthfully saw my capabilities and my gifts and she wanted me to take full advantage of them. But her plan of helping me become truly happy was coming at the process from the wrong angle. The roots of the process of happiness start with validating that burning lantern deep within us. It doesn’t begin with the appearance of our ship, how it is better than other people’s, how fast it is or how pretty. It doesn’t begin with having perfect destinations in place to sail to in a certain time-line (church, accomplishments, early marriage and plenty of children…) The belief system my Mom was trapped in neglected that burning lantern. My Mom bought me dolls to play with, taught me home-maker duties. When I was little, I loved to pretend that I was a business woman coming home from a busy day at work. I pretended I was serving coffee up and down our driveway, pouring water from a watering pot! I loved playing store, counting the money, adding things up on the adding machine. These things that I loved to do spontaneously were coming from that unique burning lantern deep within. These things reflected my true desires. Even deeper beneath these activities was the fundamental desire to love and be loved for who I uniquely was.
After a lifetime of not trusting these desires or paying attention to them, it felt very difficult at first to see them and believe in them. It’s like trying to see the vibrant life and colorful rocks at the bottom of a murky, muddy lagoon. It takes time. But learning to pay attention, to focus my eyes differently, to keep asking myself “what is it you truly desire?” is the process that has connected me to that burning lantern and fuels my own amazing journey. It was the process that gave me confidence to pursue counseling in the first place. In that process is the key to my true happiness. Harnessing its power frees me to furl those sails and gives me the courage and hope to cut away the ropes that I no longer need.
We have what it takes to sail our unique journeys!
I’ve been working my way through a depression over the last few weeks. Maybe “underneath” is a better word… Sometimes the journey to freedom feels easy and the truth is crystal clear. Risks don’t feel so risky. There is a strong pull forward. It somehow feels simple to make decisions based on what I know is true. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt a pull downward, a pull to just stop where I am and hibernate for awhile. Some relationships in my life have become more distant and I have felt so afraid. I think the fear of being alone, of being rejected, is one of the most powerful fears we face in our lives. I found myself listening to old voices (much clearer this time around) that said, “See, you just can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes. If people abandon you, you will die. If you are rejected, you really MUST be messed up. You can’t survive on your own…”
I’ve learned this fear comes to revisit me in varying degrees along the journey of healing (I used to believe that if I had dealt with it once, I shouldn’t have to face it ever again.) I know this depression has some very real reasons behind it. In becoming whole, some things must fall away and others will grow stronger. In my survival, I was a ship that had attached myself to many many other ships around me. One rope here, another there, spread out like a giant spider web. These ropes felt like my lifelines. I sent out distress calls and survived by interpreting the feedback I got from the other ships. As I become whole, those ropes gradually get cut or fall away. Some just shrivel up and die. Others have to get snipped more intentionally. And I don’t mean that these ropes are only connected to “people”. Some of them were attached to old belief systems that kept me stuck. Some were religious, some were cultural “norms”, some were family belief systems. But one by one, I have freed myself… I became free to focus on my own ship and start listening to what it was all about, where it wanted to go.
Some people love freedom when they first taste it. For myself, freedom has not been an easy experience (yet!) Living so long with my ropes tied to other ships, I had so little sense of my own direction, of where my own sails wanted to take me. Cutting those ropes has sometimes felt absolutely terrifying. How will I know where to go? How will I know that I’m going the right way? What if I cut these ropes and sail off to sea all by myself? Will I ever be close to others again? How can I be close to others if we aren’t tied together?… My depression was a way of coping with these fears. If I could just turn the voices down, or just fall back into the old belief that all of my pain really is my own fault, maybe this would feel easier… Maybe I could go back to coasting alongside someone else… or just hole up in the harbor again, or maybe find some isolated island to call my permanent home…
Deep within my own ship is a lantern, burning with the truth about who I am, with the life and the unique journey that is mine to take. Throughout this depression, I have felt its presence. As loud as those old voices and fears have been, my own presence has been loud too. I know that it is there. But I have felt such angst, running back up to the main deck, peering at the ships I used to be tied to, fearing my “aloneness”, fearing that the lantern with my own light isn’t bright enough to trust, isn’t good enough (now I ask, good enough for who?) It’s the most life squishing lie of all time.
My soul won’t give up. As tempted as I have felt over the last few weeks, the light inside wants to win. To keep walking forward into what feels terrifying is what my whole self wants so much more than to fade away back to the place that feels deceptively safe and familiar (it’s not the same back there anyways). I have always wanted the open sea. Facing old fears is part of learning to sail well, and I am on my way.
~By Carla Dippel~
The last few posts written by my Mom and I have been focusing on how my Mom’s belief system impacted me and molded our relationship with each other. To wrap up this series, we will each share one more post describing what our relationship had become with each other, what it took to break free from this “enmeshment”, and what our relationship is like today.
My Mom and I grew to be very inter-dependent with each other. For me, it almost felt like I had never left the womb- I was so tangled up between wanting to be free as an individual but not knowing how because my actions/moods/feelings had such a strong impact on my Mom. We were not separate people. My life was my Mom’s life… Even though a part of me was fiercely fighting to be separate, her belief system permeated mine. I tried to live out her dreams for me because I didn’t know how to follow my own. I didn’t date many guys, but in social situations this possibility was always on my mind and caused me great anxiety. I hated myself if I gained too much weight. I went to Bible College (SURELY I would fall in love and marry someone there!) I was very active in my church. Marriage, college, church- these things weren’t “bad” things in themselves. But I pursued them with this unconscious drive, believing that they would make me happy and help my Mom to be happy too. I was so afraid to live my life on my own two feet. Depending on my Mom to help me through my life came to feel uncomfortably safe, but also suffocating and inhibiting. Every step I took was gauged with how it would affect her.
I started seeing a counselor in the middle of one of my deepest struggles. My counselor introduced me to individual freedom. He didn’t try to control me or lead me in one specific direction. He taught me certain principles that would help me make my own decisions in my own best interest. In the course of my counseling, I came to know that my Mom’s happiness could not depend on me anymore. Our tightly spun web of interdependence was killing me. I needed to know that just because she was my Mom, it didn’t mean that I had to sacrifice my own individuality to help her be “ok”. I had to know that her happiness was not my responsibility. It wasn’t in her best interest to glean her identity from me and vice versa. For the first time, I saw our interdependence as a kind of umbilical cord that was keeping us alive in some ways, but ultimately robbing us of the real life we each deserved to have. It had to go. Hacking away at this umbilical cord was painful and unpredictable. I started drawing stronger lines between my Mom and I. In the past, I would have shared every bit of my life with her. I started giving myself freedom to have my own secrets, to take actions that she might disagree with, to live my life for myself. I told myself, “You don’t have to get married if you don’t want to! You are just as valuable single. You don’t have to go to church or play the piano if you don’t want to either. You are free to make your own choices.” I knew this new way of thinking caused my Mom a lot of angst, but I forged ahead anyways. I learned that it wasn’t all up to me to help my Mom feel better. She was her own individual person, capable of taking care of her own heart and mind. These were new beliefs for me about what love really was all about- I used to believe that if I loved my Mom I would live my life in such a way to make her happy, I would give her access to every part of me so we could be “close”. Now I believe that love means having the freedom to pursue my own individuality. It means sharing when I want to share, not because I have to share. It means valuing my Mom for the person that she is instead of me trying to be the person she wanted me to be so she could feel valuable…
Today there is new respect within our relationship. My Mom respects boundaries I put up when I feel I need to. She is seeking to build her own life and her own identity. This has had a huge impact on the health in our relationship. Because she is open to learning and growing, I have a growing trust that I can be honest with her. There are still remnants of our past enmeshment that show up from time to time, both in her trying to sway me to her way of thinking or in me over-depending on her to solve my own problems. But we are both aware of these tendencies. Many times I have had to correct myself and not call my Mom to “help” me or make a decision for me. Or I have had to reinforce the line between us that says, “Mom, this is my life, not yours.” These are growing pains that always help to make our relationship better, and I am thankful that I can now know my Mom as one of my true friends.
How I had been devalued, the root causes of my struggle with depression and anxiety, was hard to see for the longest time. It was like trying to see through a window with shimmery curtains waving back and forth. There were good things in my childhood too. Those things would wisp across my vision and confuse the painful feelings that I had at the same time. I would change my stance to see from a different view but the curtains were still there, still rippling across the window. I had to focus my vision closer and look at the curtains, see them for what they truly were, before I could pull them back and see through the window to freedom.
My Mom had very clear visions of how she thought my life should look (she talks about these in Part Two of this series). She had specific ideas about what would make me happy. I described my Dad as being the Unengaged Gardener in an earlier post. His belief system about himself held him back from cultivating my individuality, from emotional involvement and interaction with me. My Mom was a much more active gardener. In many ways, I am thankful for the work that she did in trying to help me be a happy member of our family and of society. She took the risk of getting her hands dirty in the soil and because of that I had a lot more material to work with as I sorted through her belief system’s impact on me. But my Dad still had a huge role in how my own belief system developed, whether he meant to or not. Together, my parent’s belief systems merged to create what I believe is a very common and often misunderstood inner “tornado” effect: My Dad’s passivity left a huge hungry hole that I was desperate to fill. My Mom’s belief system taught me to try and fill that hole with the wrong soil, soil that couldn’t sustain deep and fulfilling life. The problem was that her ideas of what would make me happy were too shallow and skewed. They weren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they were not the things that would really help me thrive. She planted a false belief system.
My Mom never told me that I had to get married to be happy. She never told me to be thin so I could attract a man. She didn’t actually say that I would only be valuable if I was married and had children. But I saw her belief system lived out in her own life. I saw how she served my Dad, how she made it a priority to teach me how to clean and cook and sew, how she watched her own weight, how she didn’t find her own happiness outside of these enclosing borders. I knew very well the look of concern that would cross her face when I would take a second helping at dinner. I knew that she was very pleased whenever I had a boyfriend or did something good at church or performed well at my piano recitals. I knew she was proud of me, in a sense… But here’s the twist: she was proud of me when I fulfilled her own visions. She was pleased when I lived out her dreams for me. No attention was paid to whether or not Carla herself was really happy in doing these things. And the things that I did enjoy doing were not investigated. In my play, my parents didn’t join in to find out about me. When I would wake up in the early hours of a Saturday morning to prepare a huge spread of food for my family (food is one of my passions) their subtle response was that I had wasted food and made a mess. The things that really made me tick were overlooked. So I learned to overlook them too.
The roots of my own happiness, the deep underpinnings that made me me were not nurtured. The voices that I was born with, deep in my heart, that held the key to what would create a truly fulfilling life for Carla were not given a chance. They were overpowered by the voices from my Mom’s belief system (and eventually, they would come under direct fire within the religious system I became immersed in).
This was the heart of the devaluing that happened to me. The pain of this devaluing was very real and set me up as an easy candidate for depression, anxiety, fear, and abuse of other kinds. My own pleasure, my ability to listen to my own heart, was disconnected from within myself (where it belonged) and implanted into someone else. I was maniuplated to survive by pleasing someone else, by fulfilling someone else’s dreams. Until now, I didn’t know how to live any other way.
Working to part the curtains!….
In my last post “A Mother Daughter Relationship~ From Broken to Whole” I began a series on how my Mom’s belief system impacted me. Today, I welcome my Mom, Debbie, as she describes her dreams for our relationship and her belief system as a young mother.
By Debbie Dippel
When considering Carla and my relationship, I think it may be helpful to look back at the relationship between myself and my Mom and the impact that my upbringing had on my belief system.
I was the youngest of 6 children. My mother was widowed when she was 38 and I was 6 years old. She re-married shortly after and that marriage ended in divorce. She had a difficult life and very poor health. At a young age I felt like her caretaker. She didn’t have the energy to invest in my life. I was given free reign, never had a curfew and wasn’t questioned much about my comings and goings. I pitied my mother and carried a sense of guilt when I left her alone. I had fears that I would become like her, especially regarding her illness. Her fears were passed on to me, the fear of being alone and single very intensely. There were positive interactions between us as well. I always knew I could talk with her and share my fears. She would listen. She once answered my question regarding my feelings of guilt with, “You are a child. You should be carefree.” Those words lifted my guilt and I came away relieved. This caused me to realize how much impact words can have on a child. She died 2 months after I was married. I loved my mother but her illness, emotional and physical, prevented us from having a healthy relationship. I would have liked to know her the way she was created to be as a healthy and emotionally whole person.
I had a strong desire to be married, have children and be in a happy and stable family. I had opinions on how children should be raised which I learned from my older siblings. I believed that as long as my children were raised properly, with love and discipline, everything would work out well. I wanted my daughter and me to be close, and enjoy each other’s company. I wanted her to be happy, well behaved, popular, have a good self esteem and know that she was loved. I didn’t want her to struggle with the same fears that I did. I wanted her to be a Christian and belong to a church where she felt a sense of belonging. I wanted her to have a good relationship with her Dad and brother. I envisioned her doing well in school, graduating, having friends, learning music, getting married and having a family. The main goal I envisioned for her was that she find a good man to marry. Therefore, I worried over her appearance. I watched her weight, encouraged her to wear makeup and do her hair, and socialize as much as possible.
I saw myself as being her confidante, role model, and encourager. I always looked down the road and thought that whatever actions I took now would affect her as an adult. I also believed that my husband and I needed to be a loving couple who modeled real love to their children. But this was not something I could do on my own.
When I first began sorting out the kind of impact my parents had had in forming what I believed about myself, I was certain that my Mom had done more damage to me than my Dad. I felt my anger mostly towards her (I was aware of very little anger towards my Dad). When I considered my relationship with my Mom, even though I knew there were good things there, I felt this guilty, restless frustration. I had this feeling of wanting to break free from something but I didn’t know what. I felt hurt and protective but I didn’t exactly know why.
I know now that my anger was there for a variety of reasons. Even though I was a very shy and sensitive child, obedient and well-behaved, my anger came out towards my Mom in fitful fights. It was easiest for me to show my anger to my Mom. However, my anger was treated as disobedience and disrespect; our fights would resolve when I apologized for “getting mad.” I learned that showing my emotions were somehow bad. I also grew extremely observant of my Mom’s reactions to me and instinctively came to know that my strong emotions really unsettled her. Without the words being spoken, I learned very early on that I had to be “okay” in order for my Mom to be “okay.” This was a heavy burden of responsibility, but as a child I didn’t know that. I just didn’t want my Mom to be sad, and I truly wanted to be the good girl that she wanted me to be. As I grew older, I stuffed my hurt and anger away. I didn’t understand why it was there and assumed that I was ungrateful and at fault for even having it. I felt guilty about it. My Mom was a very nice woman, consistent and always there for me. What right did I have to feel dissatisfied or upset? Sometimes what seemed to be an unimportant issue between us would cause my anger to flare up, but I would apologize and we would continue on.
My Dad’s passivity and emotional uninvolvement plugged the belief into my earliest foundations that I was not worth being pursued, not worth being known for who I really was. My Mom was more proactive as a parent in teaching me why I was valuable; but she unintentionally taught me that I was “valuable because”, that I would be good enough “if”… There were burdensome realities in what I learned from her about my value that held me back from getting where I wanted to go. I knew that she desperately wanted me to be happy; I tried very hard to be happy by seeking to fulfill these value requirements. I also knew that my Mom wanted us to be close and I wanted us to be close too; we did grow close, in a very intertwined kind of way. But even our closeness had rules that made me feel confined. My depression only got worse. Here I was, a beautiful, talented woman from what appeared to be a very healthy family- what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get it together?
The next few posts are all about the belief system I received from my Mom. They are also about our mother daughter relationship- how it was broken before and how it is healing now. My Mom, Debbie, will be joining me in writing this series, and I am excited to welcome her here. It is our hope that through our honesty and candid sharing, hope and healing will be inspired in any number of ways for your own story.
What was it that I needed to know? What was the “it” that I had been seeking for, hungering for, all those years? What was it that I was born desiring, born fully open to and able to receive but left wanting?
Deep inside me, every second of every day of my life, there dwells a beauty. A real person, a human being. She is sensitive but determined. She is curious, investigative, and thorough. She is creative, deep, resourceful. She goes through fears, questions, doubts. She finds the answers she wants. She has dreams! She has goals. She has desires that are good. She loves to cook and serve delicious food to her friends. She loves to make music. She loves to sun soak and walk and go crazy on the dance floor. She cares about people and loves to write because she wants her story to help others. She loves, and she is loved. She has stopped off to one side of her path many times but has always gotten back to her feet and followed her heart, a heart that tugs her forward, forward, forward. She loves adventure and having fun. She is passionate to live out her full potential. She is willing to learn. She is generous. She is a valiant truth seeker. She is classy…
This is me. Please substitute your own words for yourself if you would like… Deep inside each of us is one unique expression of what it is to be human. This expression is complete within every person, whether it is uncovered or not.
First, I needed to know that my hungry heart was okay. I needed to know that what I felt was lacking really was lacking. It was not my imagination. My hungry heart was not selfish or self-centered. It was hungry. Hungry happens for a reason. I needed to know that the circumstances in my childhood that created that hunger were wrong. I needed to know that it was not okay to be emotionally neglected by my Dad. I needed to know that it was good for me to be angry about that (Darlene explores this topic further in her post “Anger at Parents~ A Pathway on the Journey to Freedom“). I needed to know that a person who is hungry will try to satisfy or stop their hunger with lots of different things- accomplishments, boyfriends, addictions, depression, the approval of others. I needed to know that it was okay that I tried to fix my hunger with these things, that it made sense. I needed to know that I was so much more than my ways of coping. I was not simply possessive, jealous, depressed, needy, angry or insecure. I used these things to try and solve my problem- they just didn’t work.
When I knew all these truths, I became free to know my real self . Underneath all the things I used to cope was the real me, the Carla who I had all my life been so hungry to know and so hungry to share with others. In affirming that she was real and that she was good, I became confident to meet her and embrace her fully as myself. I could stop striving to “manage” or fix all these different parts of her, hiding parts from certain people or embellishing other parts for other people. In knowing that ALL of Carla was okay and that all parts were necessary, I could start on the kind of journey I had dreamed of my whole life, with my whole self on board. All of me is now in one place. I know now that I am worth knowing, worth exploring. With this new belief at my foundations, I can now give myself what was lacking before. I have the freedom and the power to celebrate now what was not fully celebrated in my past. I take up the task of protecting, accepting, nourishing and teaching my whole self to thrive and flourish as I was meant to all along. All these things are what I needed to know, all parts of one big truth, one big vibrant picture.
A few years ago I was at a workshop and I participated in a church tradition of eating bread and having wine during one part of the service. Three lines had formed in the room and we were all waiting for our turn to be handed a piece of bread to dip into the wine cup. I was waiting in my line, watching the server break off piece after piece from the loaf in his hands, piece after piece to this person and the next… Each piece was so small, I noticed. I was hungry. It was a big loaf of bread with that crunchy crispy outside… As I stood there a couple thoughts floated through my mind. The first came along… “Hmm, I hope I get a really big piece...” My second thought was a reaction springing from the lies I used to believe: “I wonder if God is disappointed about me standing here only thinking about how big a piece of bread I’m going to get...” Thankfully, at that point in my journey, the guilt guards didn’t win those kinds of battles anymore… So I didn’t fight either thought and they were held suspended in my heart as I approached the man for my piece. I stood there, and as he made eye contact with me his elderly hands tore off the BIGGEST chunk of bread I had seen the whole time I was waiting in that line. Even he seemed surprised at the size! I felt deeply affirmed in that moment that it was okay to want more.
I am so familiar with that acute desire of wanting more, the feeling that something was missing or that there was something great that I needed to find. I imagined what it would feel like to find that “thing”… I searched and searched in every person I met and book I read and movie I watched to see who “had it” or where “it was”, that thing I was looking for. And I analyzed and tried to figure out exactly how a person got it. Had they always had it and I was just born missing it? Did they have to work really hard for it? Did it just happen one day? Did someone else need to give it to them? Many times I had also felt the message being said to me, “Why are you even searching? Can’t you just be happy with what you have? Look at the many people who have so much less…” which for me translated into “your heart is over-sensitive, selfish and unreasonable and your desire is just too much.”
My recent posts have been about how my Dad’s belief system so strongly impacted me. Passive withholding abuse is difficult to define or see. As adults it can feel overwhelming and scary to even try to see it in our pasts because there’s nothing really concrete to “pin point”, there are no solid markers along the way. It’s like… growing up believing that all there is to eat on the planet is potato soup. The same thing, every day, same quality (kind of watery…), same amount, not completely nourishing or delicious but enough to get us by. As children, the reality that this is all we’re served tells us that this is all there is. We feel disappointment but it doesn’t really make sense because it’s not like we had the better soup at one point to compare it to. As we grow older, we still feel something is missing, something doesn’t seem satisfying… But we don’t understand why. We struggle with depression and low self-esteem, guilt and anxiety. But in our reasoning, the potato soup was always there and seemed substantial enough, especially compared to those who were never served any soup or actually served toxic soup… Still, there’s this sense of… lacking soup. There’s this restless hunger that’s misunderstood. It is so painful to feel the hunger but not the validation that the hunger is worthy; for me, depression was one way of trying to make the hunger and the pain go away altogether. Darlene has shared about this kind of abuse as well in her post “Withholding Emotional Abuse“.
As I was putting the pieces of my past together and growing in the affirmation that my struggles had been caused by something, my intense hunger was an answer in itself; it was the “pin point” as well as the starting point on my quest to gain what was missing. I see now that it came from the very alive part of me, the part searching to find what I was born wanting… the “more” that we are all worthy and deserving of.
A belief system that says, “I am a nobody, I can’t do anything right, I’m just stupid” wreaks havoc in a few different ways. I believe we were born with an unconscious sense of our own value; deep down, in each of us, there “dwells a beauty”, a person who is loved and can love. But trying to function with a totally opposite belief system creates a swirling, anxious situation inside, as if two rivers are colliding head on into one another and the water is all confused. In my last three posts (1, 2, 3), I’ve been describing my Dad’s belief system and how it was passively handed down to me as a child. His belief system also created havoc in my family, just not the really obvious easy-to-see kind.
Someone with a “I’m a nobody” belief system still wants to be valued, because they are human. Because my Dad didn’t value himself he sought to find his value in other ways. One of these ways was to put a lot of responsibility on his family to do the work of his own failing self-esteem. He believed that he was loved if his wife cooked and cleaned and took good care of him. He believed he was loved if we didn’t say a mean word towards him or be upset with him in any way whatsoever. If he put himself down, we would disagree with him and try to tell him that the opposite was true. Because he didn’t communicate his thoughts and feelings, my Mom, brother and I were forced to try and read his mind. If he was in a bad mood we ALL could tell- we became so skilled at reading his subtle signs and passive communications at the expense of learning to communicate for ourselves. If we sensed he was upset, we would do the work to try and make things better. Though my Mom would try and encourage better communication, he was so extremely uncomfortable and uptight about trying that things would end up more anxious than before. He was the passive King in our home and we learned to treat him with kid gloves. In living this way, my brother and I learned that love was all these things. Love meant compensating for someone else’s poor self esteem. Love meant not making the other person upset. As children who did not know this was so backwards, it also meant sacrificing our own needs to be built up and paid attention to in order to build up our parent. So the cycle continued. My brother and I grew up with this huge sense of lacking and low self-esteem of our own. We naturally lived to please other people. And all the while, the pain was brewing deep inside.
The last five years have been a process of seeing these things as the truth of my story. In learning the truth that all these subtle “leeching” dynamics between a parent and his children can have just as much damage as more physical or obvious kinds of abuse, I was exposed to a whole new world. I learned that these things were not my fault. I learned that my depression and anxiety has definite reasons and weren’t just symptoms of a messed up person.
Of my two parents, my Dad’s belief system had the most impact on me. Deep down I believed I was a “nobody” as well and I relied on other people to tell me that this wasn’t true. This wreaked havoc in its own kind of way, testing relationships and causing me to miss out on great opportunities that I felt I just wasn’t worthy of. As an adult, the responsibility to live differently is now in my own hands. Now that I know that this belief system is not my real inheritance, not the one I was meant to have, I can choose to embrace a new one. I can choose which river to follow. Today I am working to change my belief system. Today I take on the primary responsibility of nourishing my own self-esteem. Today I am taking another step into freedom and living in the truth.
At the heart of the devaluing belief system (click here to read Part One) is the lie that as human beings, we are not valuable in and of ourselves. We exist to be used by others. Our own desires aren’t important. Other people’s desires trump our own. Our feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted. We are not capable of living our lives to the full. We don’t deserve to live our lives to the full. This belief system manifests itself in all kinds of ways. But the lie at the heart of it is the same.
Today I will describe how parents teach their children this belief system even simply in how they treat themselves. My Dad never told me I was a nobody, but he lived like he was one. He is also intelligent and talented, but he never believed that about himself. In my childlike observance, I saw repeatedly how he was uncomfortable accepting compliments and also giving them, how he did jobs and favors for others even if he didn’t want to because he didn’t believe he deserved to say “no”, how it was safer for him to spend hours watching TV or reading the paper instead of engaging with us, how he put himself down, even calling himself “stupid”, how he always took someone else’s opinion to be superior to his own. He didn’t offer his true self to his family, rarely sharing what he really felt or thought about something. I got this message from how he lived his own life: don’t flourish, don’t attract attention, don’t fly too high, don’t shine too bright. If other people were successful or happy he was quietly critical or suspicious of them. Be wary of the world because it’s a scary place. This may sound like the wrappings of a humble, unassuming person. But it was not so innocent. How a parent treats their own self is a huge message to their kids about what it means to be human.
As an observant and impressionable child, I grew up in this “lowly soup”. Even though it was never spoken to me, I naturally believed that because my Dad thought so little of himself as a human being, I must be little too. Even though I excelled at school, learned to play the piano, won awards, and succeeded at being popular, there was always this deep deep down feeling that I really had nothing to offer, nothing from my true self would be good enough. I didn’t even have practice in knowing what my true self was! In squishing himself, my Dad’s belief system squished down the spontaneous buds of my own real self. And as a child I had no way of knowing this was happening- I accepted it as the normal reality. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that it DID happen, that I did receive a passively given faulty belief system from my Dad, in order for me to be free from the lies that entrapped me.
Thankfully today, I can choose a different kind of inheritance. I love what Darlene wrote on our facebook fan page the other day: “I am not defined by who they think I am. I am not defined by who THEY say that I am. I am not defined by what happened to me. I am defined by my heart; my tenderness and compassion for others; by my purpose. I am an individual, worthy and valid. ~ Darlene”